I LOVE Preschool! Those are some of the most precious years. My degree is in Early Childhood Education and I was a 4K teacher before I had children of my own. I absolutely love that age. They are so fun and so curious and say some of the most amazing things. When I was starting out teaching, the school where I was to work had formerly been simply 4th and 5th grade. The schools in the district were divided by grade. There was one school for K-1st, one school for 2nd-3rd, and one for 4th-5th. So… not only was my school not set up for little ones, 4 year old kindergarten was a completely new concept!
When I arrived a couple of weeks before school was to begin, I was shown my new classroom. It was completely empty! The furniture had been ordered, but wouldn’t arrive until after the school year had begun. I had nothing. No rug, no cubbies, no toys, no tables, no chairs… nothing. I started scavenging. I walked up and down the halls and took from the piles of discarded items other teachers were throwing away. I had a friend give me a few boxes of materials. A friend gave me a tub of Duplo Blocks. The toy store where I had worked for the summer went through their inventory and loaded up my car with a lot of items that could not be sold… CDs that we had used to play music in the store, items that had been used for story time or puppet shows, slightly flawed toys. I collected everything I could find for those next two weeks. I recruited my husband (who at the time was just a friend) to paint tables for me.
But wait… there’s more…
The school had no curriculum or plan for me to use. I was tasked with creating the 4K program for my classroom. The program was a new idea. Most of my students were half day preschoolers. I had a morning and an afternoon class. However, I had about ten students who would stay all day. These students were considered “at risk” and it was thought that they would benefit from double exposure to all the lessons.
Y’all. They put a brand new teacher into an empty classroom with no plan! I was thrown into the deep end! But guess what? I made it. The year was so much fun. I made a kitchen center out of cardboard boxes. Those Duplo Blocks were well loved and played with daily. We danced to songs from those old CDs. I covered the walls with artwork from my students instead of cute little posters. My assistant, my co-teacher, and her assistant were all brand new. We made some amazing memories as we stumbled through that year together. It was eye opening for sure. But some of the lessons I learned in that first year of teaching carried me when it was time to school my own preschoolers at home.
When someone asks, “What do I need for my preschooler?” ” How do I choose curriculum?” ” What should they be learning?”
This is my 3 step response:
Let me say this LOUD AND CLEAR…. preschoolers do not need structured academics. Preschoolers NEED TO PLAY. They learn through PLAY. Let them PLAY!
Y’all listen to Mr. Rogers! Play is serious learning. It is not an easy out to let your preschooler play all. day. long. Unless your child is really excited about workbooks and sitting at the table to “do school,” don’t make them do it. My oldest liked to sit with me and do school for about one hot minute per week. He much preferred reading books about planets and building solar system models. He loved to explore the backyard and collect sweet gum balls. He rode his tricycle, climbed trees, built forts, rescued stuffed animals in danger, played with his sister, looked at books, read books, watched Little Einsteins and Sid the Science Kid. I learned from my experiences with him to not push school on my girls. The time would come for more focused academics. Preschool is a beautiful time to learn your children and see the world through their eyes.
I know this might seem tough. Especially if your non-homeschooling friends are sending their children off to preschool and posting all their super cute crafts on social media. You may feel like your child who prefers to play in mud puddles over learning to read is going to fall behind. I promise he or she will not fall behind. I promise PLAY is the most important. I mean… Albert Einstein said it… so… you can believe it.
When I potty trained my third child, she was much younger than my first two had been. They had been closer to three years old. They had potty trained very easily. I thought by number three I was a pro.
I was not.
It was a miserable experience. I had a newborn and was trying to potty train my not-quite two and a half year old. That child peed on me on a number of occassions. She wet her clothes regularly. She wet furniture regularly. It was MISERABLE. I thought I was going to ruin my relationship with this child. We tried every reward in the book…. nothing was working. Fast forward about six months. She decided she wanted to try to sleep through the night without a pull up. She had her eye on a pair of Hello Kitty boots. I told her that if she kept her pull up dry for five nights, she could have the boots. She came out every morning with a dry pull up and watched me check off the calendar. She was over the moon excited when she got those boots. Why did it work then and not before? She simply wasn’t ready six months prior. Because she wasn’t ready, it made the training that much harder.
I have seen in my parenting career that if my children wait until they are ready for something, the success rate is so much higher. Potty training, learning to read, riding a bike, playing the piano… If you just give your child a little time, school and life will go more smoothly. If you are getting push back from your child. If they are just not seeming to grasp a concept… take a break. Take some time off and come back to it later. When they are ready, they will take off! That was my story. I was a poor reader all through early elementary school. I was put in the lowest reading group and had to stay in from recess all through third grade. But when I finally figured it out… when my brothers spent time with me helping me learn… I took off and never looked back.
If you want to maintain a culture of play and direct a little more focused education, let me suggest you utilize Busy Bags. Busy bags are simple activities stored in a bag for toddlers or preschoolers so they are always ready to go! They are engaging activities that your child can do independently. They are great for playing during quiet time at home or to keep them busy while waiting at the doctor’s office. I suggest using zipper pencil pouches to store your activities.
This picture is from a Toddler Busy Bag swap I did with some families in our community several years ago. First, we generated interest among our local community, then everyone picked an activity, agreed on a date and time and the swap was on! Each person picked an activity to make and made multiple sets of that one activity. We each brought our items to the park and shared about what we had made.
1. Paint chip matching
2. A Button Snake… kids lace shapes onto a long ribbon.
3. A Lacing Toy… this awesome lady cut up a plastic dish drain and provided strings and pipe cleaners for endless play time. Toddlers can pull the string through the holes. Preschoolers can practice lacing and weaving.
4. Color Matching wheel … See below for the FREE printable that goes along with this one. Kids match colored clothespins to the color wheel.
5. Color Match circles… A Big circle is laid down with a color written on it. Kids match smaller circles with pictures done in the same color. (Example… the big circle says “green”… kids place a small circle with a green smiley face on top.
6. Pom Pom Push…. we also had this one at the previous swap. It is a huge favorite at our house. You take a small plastic container at cut a hole in the lid. Kids can push the pom poms through the hole. This mama put duct tape around the hole so no little fingers get cut with jagged plastic.
1. Pom Pom Pick Up. The child has a container filled with pom poms and a set of tongs. The lid of the container has a hole in it. The child can empty the pom poms and then use the tongs or their fingers to put them back through the hole in the lid. This activity also came with a straw… the child can blow the pom poms around the table!
2. Homemade Play Dough… every kid I’ve ever met loves play dough. It just has so many great learning aspects… especially development of fine motor skills.
3. Felt Pizza… with order slips!! The child can create custom pizzas with this fun activity. They have crust, sauce and a variety of toppings. The activity also has order slips to make custom order and practice counting how many of each topping goes on the pizza.
4. Color Match Puzzles.
5. Spoon Matching with Shapes and Numbers.
6. Spell Your Name Bunting. This mom made personalized busy bags for each of the families that participated.
7. Block Puzzles. The child estimates how many blocks will fit in a certain shape and then does the puzzle to find the correct answer.
8. Paint Chip Color Match. My kids LOVED using clothes pins!
9. Lacing and Shapes. Children lace the ribbon through various shapes.
A favorite activity of my kids, when they were small, was making patterns with Duplo Blocks. You can create your own patterns using the Free Printable Below.
Please don’t stress, dear friends. The preschool years are tough… they are… but they are oh so fun! Preschoolers are amazing and come up with the best games. They have amazing imaginations and are so, so curious. You can teach your preschooler to listen to the rhythms of their body. They need play. They need rest. They need activity. They need calm. Teach them self awareness. Ask them what they want to learn. Explore with them!
Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are: